The greatest Warrior


POSTED: Thursday, July 30, 2009

Somewhere amid the frenzy following Hawaii's title-clinching victory, a few among the throng covering Aloha Stadium's field found Colt Brennan and boosted him above the celebration.

The uplifting moment was a fitting turnabout for someone so instrumental in elevating the Warriors football program to heights previously thought unreachable.

It certainly wasn't the first time Brennan found himself buoyed by his adopted state.

Less than three years prior to that Thanksgiving weekend victory over Boise State in 2007, Brennan arrived in Hawaii without a scholarship but with a singular focus.

“;I wanted to get away and play football,”; Brennan said. “;It was that simple.”;

By the time he completed his career, the impact Brennan left on Hawaii football was rivaled only by the influence the islands had made on his life.

After a much publicized incident at Colorado left him embarrassed and embittered, Brennan found the fresh start he craved in Hawaii.

Over the next three seasons, his affinity for the local lifestyle endeared Brennan to the fan base just as his remarkable on-field performance raised the national profiles of the Warriors and their quarterback.

“;When I came here to Hawaii we talked about it being so much different than the mainland,”; Brennan said during his recent summer visit before reporting for his second training camp with the Washington Redskins. “;Money, material things are not valued as much out here. The person you are, the character you have, that's what's valued.

“;I was accepted before I ever started a football game.”;

After learning the intricacies of the run-and-shoot during a 5-7 sophomore season, Brennan directed the offense with uncanny accuracy and efficiency.

Along the way, he completed better than 70 percent of his passes and broke or tied 31 NCAA records while helping shape a new paradigm for the program.

Prior to 2007, the BCS was a goal for other people. And surely, having a Hawaii player among the elite at the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York was fantasy at best.

Yet there they were that December. Hawaii, the last undefeated team in the land accepting a berth to the Sugar Bowl. And Brennan, a lei draped over his dark suit, sitting in the front row of the Nokia Theatre in Times Square as the Heisman was awarded to Florida's Tim Tebow.

Though he often made the game appear ridiculously easy while firing darts to fellow Centurions Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullins and Jason Rivers, reaching those landmarks wasn't nearly so simple.

In life and in football, Brennan followed a progression built on learning from previous stumbles.

Following his conviction for second-degree burglary and first-degree trespassing while at Colorado in 2004, Brennan spent a year at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, Calif., and had a scholarship awaiting him at San Jose State, where his cousin was a receivers coach.

But it was also about that time that Hawaii associate coach Rich Miano, while watching footage of Saddleback receiver Jerard Rabb, took note of Brennan's accuracy and quick release, and began the process of recruiting him to Manoa.

The Warriors didn't have a scholarship to offer, but Brennan found a head coach with a history of presenting opportunities to those he believed deserving of a second chance.

“;I knew they were great kids,”; former UH coach June Jones said of Brennan and Pisa Tinoisamoa, a linebacker who moved past legal issues in high school to flourish with the Warriors.

“;(I) told them I'm not going to judge you from the past, if you want a new start, we'll do it. From this day forward is what we'll know you as.”;

While Miano's decision to take Brennan to the North Shore to check out the Pipeline Masters during his recruiting visit certainly didn't hurt, it was meeting the players already in the program that sealed his decision to walk on.

“;He told me he saw Mel Purcell and Ikaika Alama-Francis and Nate Ilaoa and Davone Bess and guys like that and he knew we were going to be a good team,”; Miano said.

While Brennan's grasp of the offense his first season was lacking, his playmaking ability was undeniable. So expectations ticked up a notch in 2006, and the Warriors came within 18 points of going undefeated during an 11-3 season as Brennan set an NCAA record with 58 touchdown passes.

Although Brennan looks back on the 2006 team—which he regards as the most talented of his tenure—with a sense of “;what if,”; he now views those tight losses as a key to the 2007 campaign.

Energized by Brennan's decision to pass on the NFL and return for his senior season, the Warriors entered that fall with a favorable schedule and visions of an undefeated regular season.

Those plans could have crumbled at several points, particularly when the Warriors faced fourth-quarter deficits at Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and Nevada and fell behind 21-0 against Washington.

But each time, they found a way to preserve the zero in the loss column.

“;People correlate sports and life all the time, and that's exactly what it was,”; said Brennan, who passed for 442 yards and five touchdowns against Washington in his farewell appearance at Aloha Stadium.

“;Whether in business or whatever, you take your losses here and there and years down the road you know how to take advantage, you know when opportunity comes to jump on it.

“;We took our losses, and when those situations happened our senior year, instead of letting them slip away, we succeeded and we rose up.”;

The Warriors' 12-0 run to the school's first outright Western Athletic Conference championship galvanized the state, and Brennan's popularity transcended the sports pages and stretched across the Pacific.

Hounded for interviews and autographs on a nearly constant basis throughout that fall, he admits the attention and the pressure did weigh on him. But, “;I remember being like, 'Dude, this is what you came back for, this is what you wanted,' “; he said.

While he attended the Senior Bowl in Alabama, a few of the youngsters in Mobile told him about their “;Hawaii sleepovers,”; when their parents would let them stay up past midnight to watch the Warriors play.

“;You hear little stuff like that and you realize that's why you play the game, to touch people, to make a difference,”; Brennan said.

Brennan endured a painful final act as a Warrior, absorbing a punishing loss to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in a performance that opened the door for critics and still appears to grate on his nerves. But as with previous setbacks, Brennan plans to convert adversity into fuel in his pursuit of an NFL career.

In the meantime, Brennan—who schedules several benefit appearances into his visits—hopes to continue to impact the community that helped renew his faith.

“;The biggest thing now is becoming a man,”; he said. “;When I was here I was finding myself. Now that I've found myself, it's maturing into who I want to be in the future.”;


Jason Kaneshiro covers UH football for the Star-Bulletin.